Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beyond borders

Many multilateral cooperation platforms have eluded smaller nations, contradicting their own rationale for existence. Nepal is no exception to this phenomenon and has badly missed out on chances to carve out a position to deal with major bilateral issues in South Asia and beyond. The country’s long democratic transition has made its standing even more precarious.

Before 2001, Asia had two distinct royalties—Nepal and Bhutan. With the unnatural ending of the partially feudal legal throne in Nepal, the country ushered in a complex web of mismanaged political arrangements. Later, the prominent advent of the Maoists and Madhes-based political parties were in the right spirit of the times but later developments have shown their inefficiency in dealing with the cores of polity and diplomacy.

Living under an unjustified ‘big brother syndrome’ and making impractical moves for trilateral initiatives have broken down Nepal’s conventional edge vis-à-vis its relation with India. Prachanda’s latest visit to New Delhi was primarily seeking Indian confidence for the Chinese presence back home. This was a sort of blunder, though it was surprisingly overlooked by the Indian side.

Nepal’s external policy should be directed by its own self-interest instead of excuses. The political establishment in Kathmandu should reckon that the diplomatic engagements of two almost equals—India and China—do not happen on a single front but on many counts. Among them, the most formidable is economic ties. Li Keqiang’s first foreign trip as prime minister to India was aimed at settling the border dispute and boosting economic ties. Straight after India, he flew to Pakistan, and total results of his visit have proved abysmal.

China cannot simply throw off the burden of its past. It has a few allies to date and Nepal should not have irrational expectations from China. In the lexicon of Nepal’s political economy, trade should be given extra attention. Trade and diplomacy must be the mainstays of external policy. There is no reason why Nepal should distract from this fundamental understanding. The hyped ploy of breaking conventions has given little positive outcome so far. The lack of any political stalwart is another cause
of concern; the country is missing a pacifier like Girija Prasad Koirala like never before.

New efforts are being made to hold Constituent Assembly elections in November, which will be a great test of the political parties en masse as there is great disenchantment among the populace for their false promises. People’s representatives need to come to terms with the fact that the masses are only concerned with leading the country out of the present mess. The internal atmosphere will shape Nepal’s external policy; so clarity over this would do well for the country’s future course.

In South Asia, Nepal is situated strategically to carry forward its independent stature. Despite the gloom and doom over the last two decades, Nepalis in general have endorsed democracy. This is a sort of accomplishment, as modern ideas and aspirations are routed through such welcome changes. If there is balance on the political home turf, it will be much easier for Nepal to claim its deserved position in the world.

There is no tailor-made solution for a firm footing in external matters except for being internally strong while chasing difficult targets externally. Relying less on theoretical paradigms and taking a more practical approach would make foreign policy maneuvering a more informed exercise. As a sovereign state, the boldness of Nepal’s action should display its sovereignty. Unlike China or India, it has never earned the ire of cunning colonial motives. This is a reality and not bound to be changed.Thus, it allows Nepalis to take pride in its non-interfering nationalistic pedigree.

In the present ideal-deficient time, bilateralism is the order of the day for nations. Hence, Nepal too should define its priorities accordingly. Among the most important changes, it should learn to look beyond India and China as the world is much bigger. With a changed mindset and a mature leadership, Nepal has the capacity to draw resources from beyond.

However, India will stay its closest ally, even when Nepal expands its presence across the globe. China has a different angle on seeing the world but it is a very formidable force in itself, which India has learnt since 1947. Nepal, for a while, can learn from India’s follies in the 1962 war. It is time for a course correction in Nepal.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on July05,2013)

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